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What time is it?

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I have a watch. So does everybody else unless you belong to that group of people that just don’t wear watches. I also have a mobile phone. And so does everybody else.

The watch I have is many years old, I bought it last century some time and it has been working well for me. Every few months I have to adjust the time a little bit, the watch tends to run a little fast. Time and date show up nicely though, a glance at my write with no buttons to press and I know if it’s time for lunch or to pack up for the day and head home.

Recently, somebody claimed that they re-invented the watch. It’s the next big thing, everybody touts. So what does it to? It shows time, no big deal, right? But it does so much more, they are telling me.

“Like what?” I wonder.

Well, it lets you pay when you’re shopping. “I see.” I say, but I do most of my shopping on-line, so there’s not big help there. And most of the other stores I buy things like groceries, don’t accept that particular method of payment. My credit card works just fine.

It measures your heart beat. Hmm, OK, my doctor does that too, every time I visit and blood pressure and heart beat are always doing great. No need for that.

The battery lasts all day, they tell me, this is so much better than other watches. How can that be? My current watch runs on solar power, no need to recharge. A full charge lasts three months. My other, even older, watch has a battery life of three years. And it lets me know when the battery needs to be replaced way in advance, so I can make plans to have it looked at.

Yes, but you can do all this other stuff, I am told, again. I can see my appointments and make phone calls and see notes and and and – but all that requires a mobile phone and then I can do it on the phone, much better due to the much larger screen.

So what’s my point? The point is that there is no need for a smart watch, regardless of brand. At least not until the watch has the phone built in and then only for people that can deal with the tiny screen.

And last not least: Here I have a 25 year old time piece. It was built in Switzerland and has lots of tiny gears, stuff that the Swiss are very proud of. It’s “timeless” in style and function. I will still have it in 10 or 20 years and it will still look great on my wrist.

On the other hand I have a piece of technology that is obsolete and replaced in a year when a new model with twice the speed, better screen and a slightly smaller size arrives. Needless to say that all the accessories that are needed for smartwatch 1.0 don’t work with the 2.0 version.


The Difference

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On June 10, 2003, NASA launched the Mars rover “Spirit” on it’s way to mars. After traveling for  over 535,000,000 km (about 335 million miles) to arrived at its destination and landed safely.

It was then scheduled to drive around on Mars for 90 sols and cover about 600 meters. A ‘sol’ is about 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds, a little longer than an earth day. But for the purpose of this article, let’s call it a ‘day’.

About a month after ‘Spirit’ was launched, its twin, ‘Opportunity’ was launched as well and also traveled the same huge distance and made a safe landing on the red planet on January 25, 2004. Like ‘Spirit’ it had an intended life of 90 days and change.

Spirit has performed much better than anybody expected. It eventually got stuck in one place in late 2009 and its last communication was received on March 22, 2010. It was in operation 24 times longer than initially intended.

Opportunity on the other hand has outperformed Spirit by several years. It has been active for 4116 days since its landing as of this writing and it is still performing tests to this day. So far, it lasted 45 times longer than anybody had expected.

Both, Spirit and Opportunity weigh about 180 kg here on earth, which is quite a bit less on Mars, about 68 kg.

And then there was that Yutu rabbit (玉兔). The little Chinese rover was sent to the moon on  December 1, 2013 and arrived there two weeks later and also achieved a soft landing. It is a little lighter (140 kg) than the two Mars rovers but carries similar instruments for its exploration. The moon is only 238 thousand miles from earth, so the distance to travel was a lot shorter. The climate on the moon is a lot harsher than on Mars since the Moon is lacking an atmosphere. Temperatures can vary between a sunlit and a shaded area by 200° and this seemed to have lead to a ripe end of the rabbit, at least to its movements. As of February 12, 2014, it can no longer move and as of February 22, 2014 its control circuit had failed. There are still a few instruments that are functioning but the rover is unable to complete it’s missions, only 70 days after landing.

And now, you understand the difference between “Made in America” and “Made in China”.

Evil at your doorstep

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There is a young man. He is neatly dressed in black pants and polished back dress shoes. He also wears a stiff white shirt with long sleeves and a black tie. In his hands, he holds some papers and a book, I can’t make out what book it is from 20 feet away but it looks impressive. Another, slightly older young man, clothed the same way and holding the same items in his hands, accompanies him.

They just arrived at my front door and are now pressing the door bell. I watched them approach and I’m considering if I should ignore them. Then they knock, like they really need to talk to me, must be important.

So I throw on a t-shirt to complement my shorts and I feel completely underdressed but clothes never intimidated me, so I open the door to find out what these two nice young men want to talk about.

So I listen to their story, that I need to be saved and that the end is near and I realize these guys are trying to sell me one of the most dangerous and evil invention ever created by the human race: terrorism. How many millions of people have died in the past, in the name of this commodity, these innocent looking gentlemen are selling? Some people might call this “religion”, but to me, that’s just another word for “terrorism” and “war”.

Do I think that the two gentlemen are even aware of what they are doing? I think not, since they make it out to be so glorious. There is nothing glorious about getting your limbs chopped off just because your god tells you something different to what the other guys god told him or because during a momentary lapse of concentration to dropped his holy book on the floor by mistake.

So the two guys tell me all about my salvation and that I want to be one of the chosen ones and so on and I’m asking myself why I ever opened that door. Maybe I should tell these guys that I think they are terrorists in the making and see how they react. They probably have a good answer for that, too, since they seem to have an answer for everything else. Nothing that could stand up to any amount of scientific scrutiny, of course, but an answer, nevertheless.

And then, something mundane happened: my phone rang and I had a good excuse to tell my good byes and they left, on their way to recruit the next victim. God I hate terrorists and the religious types are the worst.

How taking notes in meetings hasn’t evolved over the years

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1987: I sit in a meeting and I have a notepad and a pencil with me and I’m scribbling what ever I can on a piece of paper in the hope I can later read any of this. Later, I sit at my computer and copy all the stuff that’s relevant, that I can read and maybe add one thing or another that didn’t make it on to the piece of paper.

1991: I sit in a meeting and I have a laptop with me. I try to take notes using the keyboard but my typing isn’t fast enough and it disturbs the meeting and I can’t concentrate on what’s being said and what I’m typing.

1995: I sit in a meeting and I have my Newton (MP120) with me. I can scribble on it and it tries to figure out what I’m doing. Some stuff is not identifiable and doodling isn’t working too well either. Later on, I transfer my notes to my desktop/laptop. Life is good.

1999: It’s more or less like 1995, except that the Newton has been replaced with the more powerful MessagePad 2100, the last model Apple has ever made.

2003: Back to the dark ages. I’m now using an HP/Compaq Ipaq. It’s horrible and it’s missing all the great built-in stuff the Newton had. Handwriting recognition is useless. The Newton is no longer an option, since it got axed and there is no longer any support for OS X.

2007: The iPhone arrives, but at this stage, it’s not helping much when it comes to note taking.

2011: The iPad is now around for a year. Scribbling notes is nowhere to be seen. Handwriting recognition – what’s that? Typing notes using the on-screen keyboard is even slower than in 1991. And an external keyboard isn’t the answer either.

2015: I sit in a meeting and I have a notepad and a pencil with me and I’m scribbling what ever I can on a piece of paper in the hope I can later read any of this. Later, I sit at my computer and copy all the stuff that’s relevant, that I can read and maybe add one thing or another that didn’t make it on to the piece of paper. If this sounds familiar, look at 1987. We now have Siri and we can use it for dictation. But that doesn’t work very well in a meeting.

Does it really have to be like this?